Japanese has become the recommended second language for aspiring racing scribes in Melbourne this year. For anyone with even a smattering has been up on the pace while others have been toiling in covering the visitors’ dominance at the major racing carnivals in Australia to date.
First, Mer De Glacé treated his opposition with contempt when overcoming a wide draw and sweeping down the outside for an authoritative victory in last Saturday’s G1 Caulfield Cup, over a mile and a half, earning in the process a 1kg (2.2lb) penalty for the Melbourne Cup on November 5. Though merely G3 standard in Japan, he made the locals look second rate.
And now, step forward Lys Gracieux — billed as the best Japanese horse ever sent to Australia — who is a short-priced favourite for tomorrow’s G1 Cox Plate, over a mile and a quarter, facing 13 rivals and required to start from a ‘car park’ draw of 15.
The premier weight-for-age race in the country needs a new star to emerge in the wake of the Winx era — the great mare won the last four runnings — and in the midst of the gloom that has descended on the industry following the 7.30 current affairs television expose of ex-racehorses being beaten and tortured prior to slaughter in a Queensland abattoir.
The Japanese entourage accompanying 6-year-old mare Lys Gracieux have caused much amusement, none more so than her trainer, Yoshito Yahagi (world #98 in the TRC Global Rankings), who has a collection of hats that he wears at any opportunity. For the barrier draw, he chose a wide-brimmed Crocodile Dundee model that he hoped would win him favour with local race fans.
Resplendent in an accompanying bright red and white jacket, this Japanese would-be Mick Dundee (as styled by Aussie actor Paul Hogan) had hardly any option other than the “terrible” gate 15 when it came his turn to select a barrier. To put it in perspective, there is a run of just over 250 yards to the first turn, and in a capacity field, plenty of luck will be needed for the favourite to get a decent position from such a wide gate. Again, punters will be relying on the mare’s class to overcome all obstacles.
But there are others with genuine claims. Both Godolphin’s Avilius and the Tasmanian mare Mystic Journey have become the forgotten contenders in this even-looking line-up, while the comeback of Kings Will Dream will be a celebrated storyline should he happen to win, with jockey Hugh Bowman seeking his fifth consecutive Cox Plate.
Kings Will Dream, transferred from disgraced and disqualified trainer Darren Weir to Chris Waller, looked very strong in winning the G1 Turnbull Stakes at Flemington earlier this month — a glorious comeback that was completed after he had broken down badly and was pulled up in last year’s Cox Plate.
Ryan Moore, who rode in The Everest a week ago, has stayed in Australia to partner the Aidan O’Brien-trained Magic Wand, coming here off the back of good seconds in the G1 Arlington Million in Chicago and the G1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
Former stablemate Cape Of Good Hope, now with Hayes, Hayes & Dabernig, finished brilliantly to land the G1 Caulfield Stakes two weeks back, while the 3-year-old Castelvecchio, who finished second to Victoria Derby favourite Shadow Hero in the G1 Champion Stakes at Randwick, comes in on the third line of betting because of his light weight and enormous promise.
British-based trainer David Menuisier reports he is very pleased with Danceteria, fourth in the G1 Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park (UK) and a last start winner in Germany. Jamie Spencer can be expected to ride his usual cool race from the back of the field.
The other worthy of mention is Te Akau Shark, regarded by some as the best horse to have come out of New Zealand this year. His last-start second in the G1 Epsom Handicap at Randwick was an eye-catcher, and he is a definite chance if he gets some luck from is widest draw.